This blog addresses various emotional aspects of experiencing infertility. It is written by a clinical psychologist who specializes in infertility counseling. Thank you for reading, and best of luck with your journey!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Infertility, perfectionism, and the loss of the "dream baby"

The other day, a client and I were discussing the struggle of giving up the "dream baby"--that is, the idealized vision we all seem to carry around of how perfect and amazing our offspring would be. They might have their mother's eyes, or their father's smile. They are of course adorable, brilliant, and lovable beyond belief. We are sure that if we could just have one, our other problems would seem to diminish in significance, and we would be, finally, happy.

With infertility, not only must we often experience a delay in achieving a pregnancy, but we may also be forced to give up on this vision altogether, even before the baby has been conceived. Whether it is feelings about having to use medicine or ART to conceive, the involvement of third parties, such as gestational carriers, or the loss of a genetic connection to a child by building a family with donor gametes or adoption--it all starts to be a deviation from the "dream".

There are often a lot of feelings of loss associated with giving up the idealized version of your "dream baby", and I think this is one of the factors that makes infertility so difficult to experience. Except here's the thing--no matter how your family was formed, you were never, ever going to get that "dream baby" anyway. Nobody does. Perhaps those blessed with fertility and easy pregnancies can forestall this loss until after the baby is born. But even they will at some point have to acknowledge that their child isn't perfect, can be difficult, and like all of us, has flaws and areas of challenge. One of my favorite psychoanalysts, D.W. Winnicott, wrote that in fact, parents naturally have periods of being very frustrated with and hating their child, because of the demands the child places on them. He thought this was in fact an important part of the developmental process because it allows the baby and the parents to psychologically separate, which is very important for the child's emotional growth.

It is interesting to me why we seem to hold on to our visions of the perfect "dream baby", because we don't have the same expectations of adults. I don't know any perfect adults, and I bet you don't either. So why we would expect a baby, who is just trying to figure out this crazy world, to fulfill our visions of perfection, is curious. Maybe if we didn't have this vision, we wouldn't have the motivation to keep trying to create our families.

In any case, I think that realizing that the "dream baby" is just that--a dream--makes it easier for those of us who have experienced infertility to make decisions about treatment and family building decisions going forward. If your dream baby doesn't exist anyway, maybe it might matter less to you if your child was conceived in an IVF lab, or if you aren't genetically related to him or her. Giving up on the dream baby opens us up to love and accept whomever we are fortunate enough to parent, with all of their own uniqueness, talents, and difficulties.

If you are struggling with this issue, I recommend you make a list of all of the characteristics of your "dream baby". By seeing them in writing, you may be able to better understand your own expectations. It also may help you realize what you hope to gain by becoming a parent, and that there are many paths to that goal.

Although giving up on our impossible fantasies can be painful, it does allow us to engage with our realities, which, especially when it comes to children, can still be quite amazing, no matter how they come to our family.


  1. I really find your blog so insightful, thank-you. While reading this I began to wonder how this effects adoptions. I wonder if adoptive parents ever unconsciously put pressure on their children to be perfect. We are currently waiting to be matched so I am examining the questions within myself.

  2. A very good post, thank you Lisa.